Introduction to Ethnobotany - Online biology courses | Arts and Science Online

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Introduction to Ethnobotany

BIOL 319/3.0

Ethnobotany is the study of the relationships that exist between indigenous cultures and local flora. Case studies will be presented to examine the various categories of plant use, the importance of traditional knowledge to Western culture, and the role of plant conservation and cultural sustainability.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

After completing BIOL 319, students should have the knowledge and skills to do the following:

  • describe how the science of ethnobotany is applied in the understanding of relationships between plants and indigenous/traditional cultures
  • describe how botany and biochemistry are used in identifying and understanding the ethnobotanical value of a given plant species
  • develop the skills and methods used to collect, classify and preserve plant materials
  • list the main categories of plant use by indigenous/traditional peoples and identify how plant value depends on cultural context, both material and spiritual
  • present examples illustrating how traditional plant knowledge derived from ethnobotanical investigations have been applied in our modern world and the positive and negative implications of this


This 12-week course consists of a series of lectures, assignments and web forum discussions based on assigned readings. Lesson 1 (week 1) offers a general introduction and a brief history of ethnobotany. The next two sets of lessons (weeks 2 and 3) focus on the botanical sciences, including plant structure and function, specimen collection, preservation and taxonomy. The first assignment will strengthen the students understanding of these basic principles by identifying the ethnobotanical value of selected wild food plants to indigenous/traditional cultures that once inhabited their local region. In Lesson 4 (week 4), we will briefly discuss the relationships that exist between the availability of local plant resources and the evolution of a culture’s primary diet, be it hunting and gathering or farming. Over the course of the next several lessons (weeks 5 to 11), we will turn our attention to the main categories of plant use that exist among the various indigenous/traditional cultures around the world. For their second assignment, students are presented with an option of submitting an online poster detailing an ethnobotanically important plant species, or submitting an online herbarium collection of ethnobotanically relevant plants from their local region. In the last 2 lessons (weeks 11 and 12), we will focus on the ethnobotany of First Nations peoples of the Great Lakes region, looking at each of the main categories of plant use including the construction of the birch bark canoe.


BIOL 319, Introduction to Ethnobotany, explores the fundamental relationships that exist between plants and indigenous/traditional cultures from around the world. The course presents the history of indigenous/traditional plant use in relation to cultural development, as well as how modern scientific approaches to ethnobotanical investigation are revealing new and exciting applications for plant materials. Where applicable, case studies will be presented that elucidate the various categories of plant use, the importance of traditional knowledge to Western culture, and the role of plant conservation and cultural sustainability. Students will apply components of the botanical sciences (taxonomy, ecology, biochemistry, physiology, etc.) to ethnobotanical investigations and understanding.


To be determined
Course Dates: 
Exam Dates: 


2 Assignments30%
Online Midterm25%
Proctored Final Exam30%

** Evaluation Subject to Change**

Live Sessions

This course has required live sessions (e.g. webinars, synchronous activities). Please consult the Timeline in the first week of class.

Final Examination

Students must write their exam on the day and time scheduled by the University. The start time may vary slightly depending on the off-campus exam centre. Do not schedule vacations, appointments, etc., during the exam period.


Professor Dale Kristensen (

Instructor message

My name is Dale Kristensen and I will be your instructor for this course. For the past 18 years, I have been the manager of the Queen's University Phytotron (Research Greenhouse) here in the Department of Biology, and until recently was also the curator of the Fowler Herbarium. I have lectured courses in wildlife ecology, reproductive biology and conservation biology and was an instructor of 2nd year biology labs. My interests in botany and ecology extend back to my earliest memories and I spent much of my youth exploring the woodlands, streams and lake shore near my home. Learning how native peoples used plant and animal resources was a topic of great interest to me then, and remains so to this day.

Time Commitment

Students can expect to spend approximately 9-10 hours a week in study / practice and online activity for BIOL 319.

Course Resources


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Queen’s courses are weighted in credit units. A typical one-term course is worth 3.0 units, and a typical two-term course is worth 6.0 units. You combine these units to create your degree. A general (three-year) BA or BSc requires a total of 90 credit units.

Computer Requirements

To take an online course, you’ll need a high speed internet connection as well as a microphone and speakers to be able to watch videos, hear sounds, and participate in interactive online activities. A webcam is recommended but not necessary.

System Requirements:

  • Laptop or Desktop computer purchased within the last 5 years. (mobile devices are not supported)
  • Windows Vista SP2/Mac OSX 10.9 or higher
  • Up to date versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari. Please note that Google Chrome is not recommended for use in our courses.
  • Most recent version of Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash

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Tuition Fees

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Grading Scheme

The information below is intended for undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Academic Regulations in other Faculties may differ.

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